May 18th, 2011 / 3:49 pm

Dogs and such

I once felt compelled to finish everything I began. Not sure why. The tendency can be just as foolish as admirable. Today I was on page 188 of Peter Arnettt’s Live From the Battlefield (Yes, I know, a certain classic) and I came across yet another scene that had me off my feed. Ever have that friend who only tells stories where they personally come out on top? Here, the young reporter Arnett confronts an older established journalist for writing a too optimistic account of a military operation during the Vietnam conflict.

I felt he had misrepresented the action.

“Son,” he grinned bitterly at me, “I was doing this long before you were born.”

“Tom,” I responded angrily, “I’ll be doing this long after you’re dead.” He looked at me in startled shock and mumbled into his Scotch. Reddy didn’t say much to me after that.

Everything about this exchange felt phony to me. The adverbs. The older journalist as “startled” by the exchange, the mumbling into Scotch, The John Wayne/Noir mix of the comeuppance Arnett is recalling 30+ years later. He lost me. I stopped reading. I give myself permission. Because written words were doing their thing long before I was born and will be doing it long after I’m dead. I only have so many books I can read in my lifetime. I now stop a book when I’ve read enough to feel I need to stop. And then pick up another.

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  1. karl taro

       why were you reading that book to begin with? was it recommended? 

  2. Sean

      i bought it for one dollar at a book sale and I like Vietnam lit. 

  3. John Ratliff

      At the risk of adding to this genre, I knew James Frey was full of shit long before it was publicly revealed, just because throughout his terrible terrible book he’s always right and everyone else is always wrong. I might also add that this makes for poor storytelling as well as poor memoir. 

  4. Bambi A.

      It’s the “I trumped you” syndrome. Fuck-ups are so much more better to read about.

  5. adrian


      Like you, when I was younger, I felt like if I started reading a book, I had to finish it, out of respect for the author. That went out the door when I was about 27 years old. I was reading Underworld in 1997, at the age of 27, when I said “no more,” and put it down. I loved White Noise, thought it was brilliant, but I just couldn’t get into Underworld. It’s the first book I remember putting down and not feeling guilty about it.

      Have you tried reading / or have you read Meditations in Green by steven wright? A friend recommended it to me many years ago, saying it was the “ultimate Vietnam novel.” Again, I started it with much excitement, but got lost after about 40 pages. Whatever Wright was trying to do, it didn’t work for me… I didn’t “get it,” I guess. I may get pilloried for this, but I felt like Peter Straub did a much better job with his Vietnam novel “Koko.”

      Umm, I put down The Pale King after reading the first eight chapters, but I plan on returning to it again… it’s still on my nightstand, at least (a good sign, although, I must admit, I only keep about three books on my nightstand at a particular time, and if a book starts gathering dust after about three months, I know it’s time to return it to the shelf, and we all know what that means). As for The Pale King, I had to stop, it was giving me headaches… but I do want to finish it, as I’m the only person in my small group of “literary snob” friends who has actually read, from cover to cover, footnotes included, all of Infinite Jest, and I’m damn proud of it! I want to give the new DFW a rest for a bit, and read something with a little less heft. I’m quite excited to start “The Explosion of the Radiator Hose,” as I just ordered it from Amazon the other day. Here lately, it seems I can only read short novels… I just finished “Suicide” by Edouard Leve this week, and I thought it was great — at only 103 pages, Suicide contains more truth in it than most novels three times its size. Epic, sad, and shocking — there aren’t too many current novels you can say that about these days. 

      Sean, thanks for being honest about having the capacity to allow yourself to set down a bad novel, or a novel that isn’t working for you… life is much too short to read books that leave us cold, especially when there are so many books out there just waiting for us to discover them. May you find happiness in your continued reading choices… 

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  8. Patrick

      woah, Underworld did the exact same thing to me. My first abandonment. I felt guilty about it for awhile though, like I was cheating on it with other books. But I got over that. 

  9. jtc

       similarly, last night I refused to go see water for elephants, despite the fact that it was free. time keeps on slipping.

  10. Sean

       Thanks. I’ll check out Koko.

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  15. Theficstructor

       We call that book-chuckin’ where I’m from.  Thank you.

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